Somewhere Else, the second album by alt-country singer Lydia Loveless, is a polished package, but was aiming to go—as the title suggests—somewhere else. By stripping off the honky-tonk frills of her debut, Indestructible Machine, Loveless achieves the kind of directness found on Liz Phair’s Exile In Guyville, except Loveless doesn’t always give us the coordinates to get there.
The album benefits from Loveless’ ear for melody and arrangements that smooth over genre lines between contemporary pop, rock, and country. But the lyrics simmer below the tremendous production and Loveless’ equally strong voice. Even the best songs—the hot-blooded “Head” and “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud”—struggle to stand out.
These tracks still offer a number of victories, like employing fulsome rock guitars on “Head,” which lead that song away from the album’s usual twang. In terms of the sexual act itself, Loveless is about as uplifting as Leonard Cohen at the Chelsea Hotel. She sounds sultrier singing about French poets on “Verlaine.” When she calls her volatile fantasy boy “honey,” Phair’s “Dance Of The Seven Veils” resonates in her high register.
It is easy to forget that these heavy-hearted vocals—well oiled with Cabernet (“Head”)—belong to a 23-year-old who all but leapt from her crib to her career. Loveless grew up in on a farm in eastern Ohio with readymade bandmates in her drummer dad and two sisters. She spent her would-be college years working on her solo album and hauling her gear to such cities as Nashville and Austin. Now that the initial thrum of success has passed, Loveless mines the experiences she shelved during the trials of becoming of a rising musician. Somewhere Else may have the finesse of a professional with many years on the books, but it also has the languor that accompanies an amateur treading on uneven ground.
So Loveless starts the self-learning process, as many Opry greats have, by summoning an ex-lover who is long gone on “Really Wanna See You” before loneliness kicks in and someone at a party offers her blow. In country songs about sorrow, the one solace is that the singer forgets all by morning. But Loveless remembers more of her mistakes than she cares to and that bitterness lets her stories breathe. She hisses at Chris Isaak’s sweet voice on the radio, because she keeps falling for the false hope he gives. The sentiment is less Before Sunset, and more Son Of Sam. Every time she spits “What the hell was I waiting for?” another tear drops in Morrissey’s beer.
In Loveless’ world, being the most heartbroken person at the bar makes you the most dangerous. There isn’t enough variance in the lyrics to pack the punch that Loveless is trying to swing, but she has the time—and all the promise—to make her songs as fearsome and formidable as she is.